It is now 4 years since we published ‘It Takes 5 Years to Become a Teacher’, and it is gratifying how popular this little book has become. Besides the main body of my personal biographical experience and myriad advice and tips, there are a significant number of case studies full of the early days of a range of colleagues from all over the country and the world.

Recently, I have so enjoyed dipping back into these case studies, savouring the rich mix of experiences from the first years in the classroom and amusing tales of blunders and mini disasters that never fail to make me chuckle. I shall always be grateful for the plethora of colleagues who so generously contributed their memories of those first years in the profession.

What the writing and compilation of this book shows so clearly is that no amount of university study and brief placement experience can prepare us for the totally unexpected and unpredictable mishaps and moments of bliss that working with children brings. It is that very unpredictability that makes no amount of training, coaching and study able to prevent or adequately prepare us for. Many of us – seemingly well prepared and geared up for this new adventure – found the first weeks ran smoothly with compliant pupils and sweet successes – and then the trials began. Small difficulties and unexpected glitches began to confront us and exposed our naivety, tempting some pupils to test us and seize the opportunity to amuse their peers with antics of a class clown. The worst events, however, were often those that were purely the outcome of our own lack of experience and thus slow or inappropriate reactions.

Teaching is a wonderful career, diverse and different from minute to minute. It is hard to think of another profession where, for six hours a day (seven, but with two short breaks), an individual is unable to sit down and relax, sip a coffee or a coke, nibble a biscuit or suck a sweet or make or answer a quick phone call. Other professions that handle life can snatch a couple of minutes between cases – but not teachers. Save for a short toilet stop at morning play and an average of 20 minutes of the 45 to 60 minute lunch break, we are constantly vigilant, orating, articulating, chattering, conversing, discussing, echoing, enunciating, expressing, pronouncing, ranting, repeating and generally performing – dynamic, dramatic and vigorous.

We are thespians, scientists, astronomers, explorers, researchers and debaters. Does any other profession that is not on the stage wear so many cloaks? Adopt so many roles? It is our privilege to interest and engage, to motivate and excite, to charm and persuade, often with charisma and wit – even when we are exhausted, under the weather or in the midst of some personal crisis in our private life.

Rereading this summary of features of life for those of us with the privilege of working daily in the classroom, I wonder how we do it and how we sustain it day in and day out, in all weathers and throughout all the normal traumas life brings – and particularly how we did it as young and innocent newcomers to the profession. No wonder there were times when we struggled, times when we questioned our abilities and our commitment. And then there was the ever-increasing mountain of paperwork, most of which has no bearing on our daily ability to teach effectively; much of it imposed by those who have never experienced this career we have chosen and have no in-depth knowledge of what we go through day in and day out.

Yet we survive, we battle on and slowly the sun rises and all falls into place and clarity dawns. We are never safe from the unexpected, but our competency to cope and to lift our heads and deal with the day-to-day crises and chaos with confidence and clarity grows and blossoms as we truly become effective and efficient teachers. So, have faith, learn to laugh at yourself and talk endlessly with trusted colleagues, family and friends as you find your way, blossom and grow.

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